Our insurance bad faith lawyers represent those throughout Oklahoma who have suffered a property loss or personal injury and have been treated unfairly or unethically by their insurance company. Whether your insurance company unreasonably delays handling your claim, refuses to pay its reasonable value or denies your claim entirely, our experienced insurance attorneys may be able to file a lawsuit for bad faith and obtain compensation for your loss and other damages. We routinely field questions from policyholders all over Oklahoma who are having no success getting their insurance company to pay the fair value of their insurance claim. We have provided answers below to some of the most common questions we receive. However, every case is unique so if you believe your insurance company is being unreasonable in handling your claim, you should contact our knowledgeable Oklahoma insurance bad faith lawyers.
What are my rights as a policyholder? Our Attorneys Explain
Under Oklahoma law, your contractual relationship with your insurance company means that it must meet its contractual obligations to pay your claim or otherwise provide benefits according to the scope of coverage in your policy. Oklahoma caselaw treats the relationship of an insurance company toward a policyholder as that of a fiduciary relationship. This means that your insurance company must give your best interest at least as much of a priority as its own economic interests – if not more. Your insurance company has an obligation to proactively look for a basis to cover your loss as opposed to searching to find exclusions or other provisions to avoid liability.
You have a right to have your insurance claim handled reasonably without undue delay. If your insurance company drags its feet in paying a claim or refuses to provide reasonable communication regarding your claim, this may constitute a breach of its contractual obligations. You also have the right to have the reasonable value of your claim paid. An insurance company may breach its obligation to treat an insured fairly by offering far less than the value of a claim, a practice referred to as “low-balling” or denying a claim outright without a reasonable basis.
Can my insurance company increase my rates for making a claim?
The answer to this depends on the situation and your insurance company. If you are involved in an auto accident and are at-fault, your insurance company may raise your rate substantially. However, your insurance company should not raise your rate if you are not at-fault in a motor vehicle accident. Under a homeowner’s policy, the situation is a little different. The insurance carrier can increase your rate so it is a good idea to verify you have a claim that is likely covered before making a claim. For example, if your roof is damaged in a hailstorm, you may want to have a roofing expert look at your roof and provide an opinion about whether the damage would be covered. You should also carefully review your policy.
While your insurance company may increase your homeowner’s policy if you make a claim, this does not mean they will actually do so. Homeowner’s insurance is different than auto insurance because there are not as many rate structures based on the difference in risk between individuals. This should make intuitive sense because the behavior of a policyholder may have a substantial impact on whether he or she is involved in a car accident but nothing to do with whether their roof is damaged in a hailstorm. The rates for homeowner’s policies are more typically affected by the region of the country you live in and the likelihood of natural disasters in the area.
What is a bad faith lawsuit against an insurance company?
Every insurance company owes a fiduciary duty to give at least as much weight to the best interest of its insured as to its own financial interests. An insurance policy is a contract with a “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” that is implied into the contract by operation of law. This means that your insurance company must deal with you reasonably in handling or paying your claim. An insurance company that refuses to reasonably perform its obligations under your policy may be guilty of bad faith which allows you to seek more than just the damages under your policy. In addition to the value of your property loss, you may also seek other damages including attorney’s fees, emotional distress and even punitive damages.
What if my policy has what appear to be conflicting provisions that may impact whether my claim is covered?
Courts know that policyholders have no involvement in the drafting of an insurance contract. A court typically applies standard rules of construction in situations where there appear to be conflicting provisions that affect coverage of a particular claim and interpret the agreement most favorably for the policyholder.
What types of conduct constitute bad faith by my Oklahoma insurer?
The list of practices that may constitute bad faith is almost endless but some common examples may include:
- Unreasonably delaying investigating your claim or communicating a decision on coverage
- Denying your claim without any investigation or reasonable basis
- Tactics of stall and delay in paying your claim
- Refusing to communicate with you regarding the denial or undervaluing of your claim
- Using tactics designed to intimidate like suggesting you will face civil or criminal liability for your claim
- Offering far less than the reasonable value of a claim (called “low-balling”)
- Unreasonably refusing to defend a policyholder with liability insurance or unreasonably refusing to settle within policy limits.
This is just a very short list of examples, but insurance bad faith may include almost any unfair, unethical or unreasonable behavior by your insurance company in handling your claim.
What if my claim is denied?
You should write a letter to your insurance company specifically detailing the provisions in your policy that you believe indicate that the loss is covered. You should document all subsequent communication with your insurance company and demand that your insurance company indicate what provisions in the policy your denial is based on. A policyholder who believes that his or her insurance carrier is treating them unfairly should also contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department and file a claim. If your insurance company still refuses to deal with you fairly, you should contact an experienced insurance law attorney who can evaluate your case and determine if you may have the legal basis for a lawsuit based on bad faith.
How does a bad faith claim allow me to recover more than the value to fix my property damage?
A bad faith claim is what is called a “tort” claim, which allows for broader damages than a contract claim. A tort claim seeks to put an injured party back in the position that they would have been in if not for the injury suffered. This means that you may recover attorney’s fees, damages for emotional distress (if severe enough that it affects your health) and lost wages. If the insurance company’s conduct is particularly egregious, you may even be awarded punitive damages to punish your insurance company and discourage similar future conduct.
Given the potential liability for bad faith, why do insurance companies still engage in such behavior?
Insurance companies can increase their bottom line by hundreds of millions of dollars by using bad faith tactics. Most people whose claim is denied do not file lawsuits for bad faith. These people just give up and go away. The few that do file lawsuits will typically end up settling their claim. The insurance company can afford to pay millions of dollars in punitive damages to a small number of policyholders that follow all the way through to trial because the majority of policyholders with valid claims simply give up potentially saving the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Our insurance bad faith attorneys represent insurance policyholders throughout Oklahoma whose insurance company refuses to deal with them fairly and ethically. Whether your insurance company has denied your claim or insists on a low-ball settlement amount, our insurance bad faith attorneys may be able to help you get the compensation you need to recover from your loss.
Schedule a free consultation online or call The Bennett Law Firm at 405.272.0303 to discuss your legal options with an experienced Oklahoma City lawyer today. No Recovery, No Fee! We will meet with you face to face and can handle cases anywhere in Oklahoma. We can even come to you!